Microsoft Skype for Business digs into the telephony pie

Microsoft Skype for Business could cost companies more in operational expenses, so detailed planning for its implementation must be done.

Despite all the hype surrounding Lync, now Skype for Business, Microsoft still owns a relatively small slice of the enterprise telephony pie.

According to Nemertes Research's most recent benchmark data, just 2.2% of companies considered Microsoft Skype for Business their primary IP telephony platform. But, of the 31% of those companies that were consolidating voice and unified communications (UC) onto a single platform, just over 41% said that consolidation was happening on Skype for Business, meaning that over the next several years, Microsoft should own an increasingly larger piece of the enterprise telephony market.

However, Nemertes UC total cost of ownership research shows that compared with other platforms, operating Skype for Business generally results in higher operational expenses.

Those companies adopting Microsoft Skype for Business for telephony generally follow one of two adoption models: on-premises or hosted. In the on-premises model, an organization builds, deploys and manages its own Lync instance. In the hosted model, an organization relies on a third-party provider to deliver a packaged Skype for Business service to them, typically as a managed or subscription-based service.

How an organization chooses which approach to take is largely driven by cost, control and governance concerns and whether it wants to own the platform.

Microsoft Skype for Business telephony integration can be challenging

By far, the biggest challenge when implementing Skype for Business for telephony is creating an integration and migration strategy with the existing telephony environment.

By far, the biggest challenge when implementing Skype for Business for telephony is creating an integration and migration strategy with the existing telephony environment.

The simplest approach is to run Skype for Business and existing platforms as independent entities, using SIP trunks to enable calls to traverse each system. But that approach likely won't support extension dialing, and it's a complicated effort to transition users from the old system to Skype for Business. Engineers must identify Direct Inward Dialing for specific groups of users and transfer their associated trunks to Skype for Business.

An emerging approach uses session management to create an abstraction layer that sits above existing telephony platforms and Skype for Business. The session management layer is where the organization would manage dial plans, calls between systems, security and performance management. Moving users from one system to another becomes as simple as making a configuration change in the session manager to implement a new call routing policy.

Another key issue is the end-user experience. Because it's a software app, many adopters look to leverage the Skype for Business client's embedded softphone capabilities as the primary means of making calls. But we often hear that many users don't want to embrace the softphone/headset model and prefer instead a standalone desktop appliance.

Those who provide a USB telephony or standalone IP telephone controlled by the Microsoft Skype for Business client rate their softphone success higher than those who provision a wired or Bluetooth headset -- though the vast majority (71.4%) go with the wired USB approach.

Newer headsets featuring noise cancellation and high-definition audio should improve success ratings, but not everyone wants to be tethered to their desktop while on a call. Moving to headsets and softphones also requires addressing 911 calls to ensure that first responders can locate those using the 911 system.

Additional challenges include the ability to manage Microsoft Skype for Business call quality, proactively fix problems before they occur and reactively troubleshoot call quality issues. Microsoft recently announced new call quality management features in partnership with Event Zero, Nectar and Unify Square. Expect more network and voice quality management vendors to deliver Skype for Business services or integrate support into existing network management platforms.

As you plan your implementation, be sure to address interoperability, end-user interfaces and management to ensure success and minimize operational expenditures.

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